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A Letter to David Tennant about Richard II

Dear Mr Tennant

I am not a stalker and am really a bit old to be writing fan letters. But I wanted to tell you why I have seen your Richard II five times, which might seem a tad obsessive.

I hope I will not offend you when I say that my desire to see Richard II had – initially – nothing to do with you. Richard II was the first Shakespeare play I studied at school. As such it is – inevitably – my favourite. In the main this is because I had to learn vast chunks of it which I still know by heart – I wonder why we only ever studied two plays during those years when we are at our most receptive to learning? But, even at 13 I loved its poetry and grace, so – some 40 years later – when my school friend bought me a ticket to the RSC I was delighted. This had as much to do with Shakespeare as to do with you.

I mean to say, the fact that you were in it was a PLUS, don’t get me wrong. But to my cynical mind, it was a commercial gimmick getting Dr Who to play Richard II in order to get young(er) bums on seats – not that I mind getting more bums on seats in British theatre at all. A gimmick as I say, a good one though. Now  I feel slightly ashamed of myself and my ignorance. I realise that the cleverness was actually in getting a talented Shakespearean actor such as yourself and putting him in to the role of Dr Who, so please forgive me.

Anyway, I was going to love the play, more or less guaranteed. So what did I especially love about this production and particularly your portrayal of this weak and tragic king? Let me count the ways. I love your long locks and the way you use them to such dramatic and feminine effect. I love your delicate, frivolous Richard and this throwaway comments which bring an amazing contemporary light and sometimes funny touch. I love your softness in stark contrast to your hard nobles. And I love the way you leap from flippant to commanding to tragic in such a little breath.

The production highlights the perfect symmetry of the play –which I had not appreciated at school. And brings out the historical significance – everything we are watching is setting the scene for the tragic Wars of the Roses. I found myself sharing in the unshakeable belief in the Divine Right of Kings – essential for a modern audience in order to appreciate full horror and upheaval of usurpation. I forgive the liberty taken with Shakespeare at the end – which I shall not reveal nor disclose - as it enhances the tragedy of the fall of the king.

Your supporting male cast of Michael Pennington (Duke of Lancaster), Oliver Ford Davies (Duke of York), Anthony Byrne (Duke of Norfolk) and Nigel Lindsay (Hereford, Henry Bolingbroke) is so strong they each deserve an individual letter from me, but they can heave a sigh of relief. This will have to do. And the women – your beautiful and sensitive queen (Emma Hamilton), the grieving Duchess of Gloucester (Jane Lapotaire, brilliant) and the hilarious Duchess of York (Marty Cruikshank) are all fabulous too. I loved too the little play within the play set in the Queen’s Garden – a perfect miniaturisation of the greater activities taking place outside the garden walls.

So after seeing you in Stratford, I went happily with another friend to see Richard II again when it transferred to the Barbican. I went again with another friend for the third time. And of course it has been transmitted on a couple of occasions to local cinemas, so I bring my total to five. Interestingly I have seen it with contemporaries, with those much younger and those who have never seen a play by Shakespeare in their lives. And all were as delighted by you – and the play – as I was.

To borrow from Henry V, I do believe that anyone who did not see you in Richard II shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here.

With all good wishes and thanks

Sarah Hodgson is Editor-in-Chief at Time & Leisure Media Group